Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Giving up control......

What happens if you hand over control to your students......and you really, really struggle with what they come up with?!

Yesterday was the first day of Term 2 and in 8C, the term started in truly chaotic fashion! We'd had earthquake repairs done in one of our buildings meaning that eight of our classrooms, including mine are now looking completely gorgeous with fresh paint, new carpet and no cracks in the plaster! Fantastic!

However, the contractors were still working on Sunday evening trying to get everything ready for Monday morning so here's what my girls arrived to yesterday morning.

Now I'm not a control freak by any stretch of the imagination (if anything I could do with being a little more Type A!) but the chaos in my classroom would have been enough to create heart palpitations in even the most laid back of teachers!

Fortunately, we had advance notice that the contractors would be cutting it pretty close to the wire. Christchurch people are used to that! So last week, at one of our Professional Development Days our team leader, Linda Baran and our new principal, Lyn Bird challenged us to "run with it" and take the opportunity to allow our students to take the lead in setting up the classrooms.

Our Year 7 and 8 classrooms are single cell classrooms and I'll be honest, I loved the way we'd had our classroom set up in Term 1. With its' comfy couches and coffee tables, fresh flowers and a lamp, I really had tried to create a classroom that had a kind of living room vibe. The desks were pushed right up against the walls and the big collaborative table was the most popular workspace. However, the bottom line here is that I had set this up with my teaching partner. The girls had little say in how the space worked. It was time to hand over the reigns and let them take ownership of 8C.

 The biggest challenge I could see was going to be pushing our girls past what they already know. We set up a gallery walk of Flexible Learning Spaces from around New Zealand and further afield.

 The girls wrote graffiti around the images and some trends emerged. They were drawn to uncluttered learning spaces with plenty of room to spread out. They also felt strongly about the option to self-manage where they work.

We then worked in small groups to plan our dream classroom. I was surprised to hear one group say, " I really want a classroom like in High School Musical where we each have one individual desk laid out in rows!" There goes my dream of the ultimate collaborative learning space!

After nearly a full day of planning, the girls agreed on a layout and away they went, setting up the classroom as they wanted it. Here's what they came up with.

Hmmmm......neither me not my teaching partner loved it but we tried to bite our tongue. After all, this is about student voice, right? Alarmed by the cluttered nature of the room, we decided to let it go, hoping that they might come to the realisation that there might be better layouts. It was a very uncomfortable feeling for me. What if they continued to love it and felt it worked well? What is more important- a space that works well or student ownership? There had to be a happy medium!

Day Two began and a teacher from Year 6 came to visit. On his way into the classroom he tripped over a desk leg and stubbed his toe! He spoke with the students he needed to see and then turned around to leave bumping into another desk and knocking over a chair. The girls were starting to realise that the space was so much more cluttered than it needed to be.

Oh, the irony.......

After some reflecting on the space, someone commented that they felt they'd love to push their desk up against the walls to create more floor space but they weren't sure they wanted to always have to commit to working facing the wall.
"Good point," someone else agreed, "We'd be much more adventurous with the seating arrangements if we knew we had lots of options and didn't have to always sit facing out the window where we might get distracted!"
"If I knew I wasn't committed to one spot all the time, I might even get rid of my desk entirely!"

We realised that what was behind the cluttered arrangement was a need to make the seating plan fair for everyone. It wasn't fair for some girls to always be near the heater where it could get very hot or always be close to the door which is distracting.  What would be fair was being free to choose where we sit all the time depending on our learning needs at that moment.

So, where does this leave us given that the girls' desks are flip-top desks with trays holding all their bits and bobs? Well, we made great progress today. We got rid of some desks and have swapped them for a second collaborative table. We've made plans to get some gorgeous bean bag couches and a low table with cushions. We've also scored a set of tote trays! Tote trays! They really do have their place.

A long way from perfect but getting warmer.........

So things are looking up! This is definitely going to be a work in progress. For a moment there, I was mulling over which took precedence in a future-focused classroom; a collaborative space that reflects my pedagogy or that my students have ownership of the space. Fortunately, it looks like we can have both!


  1. Great narrative and such an honest analysis of the early stages of this journey. Thank you for sharing!


    1. Thanks, Matt. Appreciate your feedback. Can you guess who the Y6 teacher was?!

  2. I also loved your term 1 space. It always felt like home. So although it was hard for you - the girls working with shared deicsion making that actually make a difference to their day-to-day lvies is so crucial. Great to see how you are weaving ownership and pedagogy. Look forward to the next bit of the journey :)

    1. I agree, Gin. My current feeling is that the students having ownership takes priority- if reflection is frequent and authentic and the layout changes as we respond to reflection, then hopefully we find a happy medium that works for everyone. Each day, the girls are tweaking things and I find we are closer and closer to a space that we all love. It is definitely a process.....

  3. Woohoo, thanks for sharing this Bridget!
    What a powerful journey - involving the learners in the decisions is a roller coaster! Regular reflection on what is and isn't working was key to us making an environment to meet the needs of all. I think the biggest change for us came in the removal of the desks and any 'owned' space! Very very exciting. I can't wait to follow more of the journey! Do the learners reflect on which spaces work best for different learning times? I know that some of my learners only liked to work at the 'standup stations' for maths believing they were able to problem solve better when they were on their feet! I hope your learners are blogging their thoughts as they journey....
    Anne K
    PS I would love to visit your class sometime when I am in Chch! :)

    1. I loved your EDtalks, Anne. I watched them again in the weekend. It was great to learn from your experiences. I love that they liked to problem solve on their feet. That makes sense!
      Come to visit anytime! I'd love to show you our great, wee school.

  4. Bridget, I love your blog! It is great how you have worked together with your students to create a positive learning space. Great to see them choosing where they sit!